While many military robots are the increasingly familiar small and tank-like unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) moving on treads or wheels, other more specialized types are appearing. Some have wings and can be hand-launched from a backpack, or remotely from an otherwise inaccessible location.
Other military robots are autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves, or consist of integrated hardware kits that either convert existing vehicles to autonomous navigation or add remote control abilities. Most of these robotic systems include a wide range of audio, video, sensor, and communications abilities, and some are accompanied by sophisticated software suites.
Click on the image below to see 10 of these robotic systems that are making strides in the military.
The Nighthawk Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) is a rugged, fully automated unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) made of carbon fiber composite. It uses GPS and autopilot technologies for navigating unfriendly territories to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Its range is over 10 km (6 miles) and flight time is more than 60 minutes. The Nighthawk weighs 1.6 lb (725 gm), has a wingspan of 26 inches (66 cm), and a cruise speed of 18 to 30-plus knots. The MAV is equipped with 8-channel command and control, 4-channel video, and operates on batteries. It has forward and side-looking electro-optical cameras and a side or forward-looking thermal imager. A PC-based user interface provides real-time visual feedback and point-and-click waypoint navigation. The system can also be operated in semi-manual and manual flight modes. MAVs are stored fully assembled and ready to launch in a tube measuring 6 inches (15.2 cm) in diameter and attached to an assault pack. The assault pack's outer pockets hold a rugged laptop computer, the ground control station, and an antenna assembly. The pack's total weight is about 15 lb (6 kg). (Source: Applied Research Associates)
It's quite interesting to see the latest and greatest in robots from the military, which as usual is on the bleeding edge in terms of sophistication and functionality. I'm not sure if these types of robots will ever replace human activity but they certainly make some tasks safer for military personnel and enhance their capability.
Jack, I think your comment is right on. I often think the same thing when researching these: what the heck are they doing that they aren't telling us about, if these are the publicly announced models? OTOH, some of the uses for the publicly announced models aren't really discussed in detail, but you can often read between the lines.
Nadine and Elizabeth, glad you liked the slideshow. Like Nadine, I think the Nighthawk is kinda cute, too. Looking like an actual (if antique) plane, it's got a bit more personality than the quadrocopters that seem to dominate flying robots right now.
Even in the consumer world the model aircraft electronics seem to double in performance every year. Brushless motors are now common, lithium battries weigh less than the motor and digital radios are about the size of a matchbook. The military deserves some credit for dreaming up the idea of using hobbyist technology.
The day I stand face to face with a military robot used to control me, is the day I leave whatever country I am in. The impersonal lifeless feel I get from this brings to mind a dystopian future, like THX or Cloud Atlas. The sad part is, many people come into contact with these types of devices all the time. Imagine living countless decades, then to be killed by a robot.
The fodder for science fiction for countless centuries to come.
Elizabeth, It amazes me as to how quickly robotic systems advance and the great uses they are designed carry out. I would have to say that each is tremendously unique and their mission is well defined before development work begins. Thank you for giving us this great update.
Some of these robots may be suyitable for "running point" in a hostile area patrol, and they appear to offer a lot of advantages. For starters they could be set to relay what they observe back to those behind them, so that even if they are destroyed or disabled, what they saw is available for others to see. That much alone is quite valuable. In addition they are smaller targets and more robust as far as taking damage. They may not yet have adequate judgement to be safe to use for asaulting, but they certainly would be a huge benefit for observing and defusing ordinance of all kinds. But until we have a control system that is completely immune to hacking it would not be very smart to deploy something that could be turned against us. That fact should be obvious to all, and it is why actual robotic warriors are still a ways off.
Funny you should mention hacking, William--WiFi is eminently hackable and that fact often crosses my mind when writing about the wireless comms used in these mobile, semi- or fully-autonomous robots. I've read that it's a secure version of WiFi, but have not checked that out: my charter is robots, not comms. Does anyone know what the secure military protocols are?
You are right about Wi-Fi. It is only sort of hacker resistant. So a set of functions that would be fine for a robot washing windows would not be good enough for a robotic watchman. And just consider how secure a robotic "soldier" with two mini-cannons at even 2000 rounds per minute would need to be. Perhaps one of those secure military protocols might be secure enough if it were to use encrypted commands coupled with IFF logic judgement.
William, thanks for backing me up on this. I'm always surprised at some people's lack of understanding about WiFi's non-security. And I'd really like to know a lot more about the "secure" protocols the military uses for WiFi and other wireless comms.
Ann, They are secure, and much of the information is classified. That means that they would not tell me much more than I told you.
But they are able to pass both commands and data, and they have a method of error detection and correction.
What I hope is that it is not able to be "spoofed", like the one drone was a few months back. That was a case of where the enemy lislead the GPS system. Worse yet, that drone did not have a "destruct on capture" system installed. That was very unfortunate.
Thanks, William, I already know what you mentioned about those secure protocols. In fact, I learned a little bit about how they transmit both commands and data, and the ECC--but not as much as I'd like. And not nearly as much as I want to know about just how hackable they are. I hadn't thought of spoofing, though--that does sound scary.
Ann, spoofing is indeed a very big challenge, there was quite q write up about how the spoofing of the drone was accomplished, and what can be done to avoid a repeat of the attack. Fortunately the method of attack is fairly well understood, and there were a few statements about methods available to detect it in the future. Unfortunately the implementation of the detection process is not so very simple, and it seems that it may take quite a bit more than just adding a few lines of code. The articles were either in "Microwaves and RF" or in the "Microwave journal", I don't recall which. And it was several months ago. You may find those publications a bit dry, though. Or possibly not.
well, duh, isn't that whats always happened in the past ? a few issues past (of design news) there was this ad by a miniature motor manufacturer depicting 3 swat team members throwing a baton shaped robot around the side of a container to gather intelligence about a situation in a container yard. what situation in your house might be eligible for observation ? since much of whats depicted here is hobby technology, i wonder how other nations might be experimenting . microsoft's kinect, a cheap solution with SDK downloadable, less that $150, is a great set of eyes and ears for the military experimenter in (fill in the countries you hate or are fearful of)... well, enjoy today and tomorrow, thats the place we are and the place we're goin' to.
Thanks for the info, William. In the distant past I covered communications technology, including military comms and the intricacies of how data transmission protocols work, and even wrote articles for at least one of those journals. I do find them to be dry, but that's the nature of the beast.
One more interesting thing about this collection of robotic packages is that they would all find use in the non-military realm as well. Some would work in law enforcement and others in industry and firefighting. Plus, some of them would make really neat toys.
Ann, you might want to include underwater robots in you future blogs, they are used extensively for mine countermeasures, waterborn IED defeat, search and rescue, ship hull maintenance and many other critical tasks. Some good examples might be the SeaBotix LBV: http://www.seabotix.com/products/vlbv950.htm or the LBC, which can both swim and attach to and crawl on subsea structures: http://seabotix.com/products/lbc.htm Both have numerous commercial uses in addition to maritime security.
Thanks, Think Deep, we've already done two slideshows on nautical robots, some of which are military, and many of which are AUVs, UUVs and/or ROVs: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=246206 http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1386&doc_id=262528 SeaBotix is a new one to me, though--thanks for the link.
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